Sharks

Sharks' upcoming six-game homestand comes at critical, challenging time

Sharks' upcoming six-game homestand comes at critical, challenging time

The Sharks' two-game road trip ended without a win Friday, and they will return to SAP Center on Sunday at a critical juncture in their season. 

Sunday’s game against the Calgary Flames marks the start of a season-long, six-game homestand that concludes a day after Thanksgiving. The end date matters because Thanksgiving is an important benchmark for the playoffs. 

Entering last season, nearly 78 percent of the teams that held a playoff spot on Thanksgiving qualified for the postseason in the salary-cap era. Last year -- the first in which the league had 31 teams -- 11 of 16 teams who were in position on turkey day ended up making the playoffs. It’s not a guarantee either way, but the odds are in favor of the teams who hold a playoff spot. 

When they’re playing is important, but it’s who the Sharks host on the homestand that will make the next six games particularly important for their season. The Flames, Nashville Predators, Toronto Maple Leafs, St. Louis Blues, Edmonton Oilers, and Vancouver Canucks will visit SAP Center over the next two weeks. 

Only the Blues are currently on the outside looking in at the playoff picture, just two points back of the struggling Oilers for the final Wild Card spot with two games in hand. As of this writing, the Sharks will face:

  • Two of the NHL’s top three teams by record (Predators, Maple Leafs)
  • Three Pacific Division rivals (Flames, Oilers, Canucks)
  • A team who just beat them, 4-0 (Blues)  

Of course, the season is barely a month old, which means standings positions can change by the day. What makes this upcoming stretch challenging for the Sharks is that their opponents, largely, are good at what’s recently ailed San Jose. 

The Sharks allowed at least three goals in each of their last nine games, beginning with an Oct. 23 win in Nashville. San Jose has given up 31 total goals, and 29 at even strength during that time. All but one of those was a five-on-five goal, and the Sharks  allowed a litany of quality chances. All the stats to follow come courtesy of Natural Stat Trick and Corsica Hockey.

From Oct. 23 until now, only four teams allowed five-on-five, high-danger chances at a higher rate than the Sharks (13.49 per hour), and seven have conceded expected goals at a higher rate (2.7 per hour) as of this writing. San Jose also allowed high-danger goals at the league’s highest rate (2.56 per hour) during that time. 

That brings us to the Sharks’ next six opponents. They will host six teams that, over the same stretch, either: A) generated high-danger chances at a high rate, B) converted on high-danger chances at a high rate, or C) all of the above, as the table below demonstrates. 

5v5 Ranks Since Oct. 23
Team HDCF/60 (Rank) xGF/60 HDGF/60 HDSH%
Flames 13.34 (7) 2.71 (10) 1.11 (22) 13.21 (26)
Predators 8.95 (28) 2.15 (21) 1.9 (7) 25 (4)
Maple Leafs 13.63 (5) 2.74 (7) 1.61 (11) 18 (11)
Blues 10.92 (18) 2.28 (19) 2.35 (2) 26.83 (2)
Oilers 13.65 (3) 2.8 (6) 1.56 (14) 15 (20)
Canucks 10.74 (20) 2.1 (23) 1.6 (12) 18.87 (9)

Shooting percentages can be volatile early in the season, especially when dealing with an already reduced sample size by looking only at high-danger chances. So, it’s possible -- if not likely -- some of these teams won’t be as prolific by the time the Sharks host them, especially later in the homestand. 

Still, the Sharks aren't limiting dangerous chances lately, nor are they keeping them out of their own net. If they can't tighten up defensively, an already critical, challenging homestand looks even more daunting. 

Why Peter DeBoer is confident Sharks can fill Joe Pavelski's scoring void

Why Peter DeBoer is confident Sharks can fill Joe Pavelski's scoring void

Joe Pavelski led the Sharks with 38 goals last season. That's 38 goals that now reside with the Dallas Stars.

It's not as if San Jose lacked for goal scoring this past year, having ranked second in the league with an average of 3.52 goals per game during the regular season. However, no Sharks player found the back of the net more often than Pavelski, meaning that if the Sharks are going to maintain or even surpass that offensive output next season, they're going to have to find those 38 goals elsewhere.

San Jose head coach Peter DeBoer touched on that very subject in a recent interview with NHL.com's Mike Zeisberger, in which he insisted that Pavelski's character will be tougher to replace than his goal-scoring.

"Look, it's hard to replace Pav's 38 goals," DeBoer conceded. "We scored a lot of goals last year and if we score a little bit less I don't think it will kill us. At least I hope it doesn't. The goals are one thing, but it's the leadership, the presence, the message that he would convey in the dressing room when times were tough. Those are the things that are harder to replace than his goals."

Part of the reason DeBoer is confident his team can adequately fill Pavelski's scoring void is due to the continued progression he's expecting from young players already on the roster.

"We've got to continue to hope that guys like Timo Meier can build on the season he had last year," DeBoer said. "Kevin Labanc too. I think Doug [Wilson] has done a great job of setting us up with young players in the pipeline we feel can create some offense."

Additionally, after Erik Karlsson was banged up throughout much of his debut season with the Sharks, DeBoer is hopeful the former Norris Trophy winner can have an even greater offensive impact moving forward after signing an eight-year contract in the offseason.

"When we had the opportunity to acquire Erik Karlsson last summer there was no hesitation in anyone's opinion to go forward on the possibility of doing that," DeBoer insisted. "Those are generational-type players and they rarely become available, if at all. It was a no-brainer to trade for him and it was a no-brainer to sign him. 

[RELATED: Why DeBoer credits Thornton for Sharks' historic power play]

"He's going to be a huge part of what we're doing going forward," DeBoer continued. "You take out Pavelski but you add Karlsson and some young guys. … The game might change in how we create and how we do things but I think he's going to have a big impact. The two months he was healthy he controlled a lot of the games we played. We just need to get him healthy so he can have a full healthy year to get into rhythm."

The Sharks are going to feel Pavelski's departure in more ways than one. Yes, his 355 goals rank second all-time in franchise history, but he brought so much more to the table than simply the ability to put the biscuit in the basket. However, if Karlsson, Meier, Labanc and others can combine to fill his resulting scoring void, Pavelski's absence won't be nearly as noticeable.

Red Wings hilariously troll Logan Couture on Pavel Datsyuk's birthday

couturedatsyukap.jpg
AP

Red Wings hilariously troll Logan Couture on Pavel Datsyuk's birthday

Pavel Datsyuk's birthday might not be a day that Sharks center Logan Couture circles on his calendar every year, but he was reminded Saturday.

In honor of "The Magic Man" turning 41, the Detroit Red Wings' Twitter account posted a GIF of Couture falling victim to Datsyukian dangle. Couture, understandably, was none too pleased. 

To make matters worse -- or at least more ironic -- for Couture, the GIF in question came on his 24th birthday. The Sharks hosted Datsyuk's Red Wings on March 28, 2013, back in Detroit's last season in the Western Conference and just two years after San Jose eliminated the Winged Wheel in the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs for the second straight season.

The Red Wings were in the Western Conference for the first four years of Couture's career, and he played more regular-season and playoff games against Detroit (24) during that span than any team other than the Los Angeles Kings (30). Couture credited those matchups for helping him develop in a piece for The Players' Tribune in 2015, and called Datsyuk's deke "an example that my teammates will probably never let me live down." 

"Thankfully, I’m far from the only one to be victimized by Pavel," Couture wrote at the time. "He has the best hands in the NHL. One little trick he likes to do is stick-handle between a player’s tripod — between their feet and stick. He’ll even use the net as a prop to make you look dumb."

[RELATED: Why DeBoer credits Thornton for Sharks' historic Game 7 power play]

Datsyuk retired from the NHL three years ago to return to his native Russia, and signed with hometown Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg of the KHL this summer. There were rumors of him considering an NHL return, but Couture won't have to worry about Datsyuk's stickhandling much moving forward. 

Well, at least until the next time someone digs up the clip.